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Tech Interests Go on Hiring Spree in D.C

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Correction Appended

While much of Washington, D.C., has been focused solely on health care reform, the technology industry has been quietly undergoing a massive shuffling of the decks on the personnel front.

Since the beginning of the year, more than half a dozen tech companies have installed new government relations office heads, including Microsoft Corp.’s Fred Humphries, Applied Materials’ Gary Fazzino, Hewlett-Packard’s Larry Irving, Cognizant Technology Solutions’ Robert Hoffman and McAfee Inc.’s Thomas Gann. Several of the industry’s associations are also in the midst of major restructuring, personnel changes or expansions.

Headhunters say the shift comes as the Obama administration and the Federal Communications Commission, in particular, are paying more attention to the industry and are poised to take a more aggressive regulatory position on such issues as net neutrality.

“These technology companies have come to the realization that they can really be hurt if they ignore Washington and that they need to have somebody representing their interest,” said Ivan Adler, a headhunter at McCormick Group.

Nels Olson, head of Korn/Ferry International’s Washington office, said the changes are part of a confluence of events rather than a systematic shift in the industry.

“Obviously any time there’s a change in an administration or a Congress, it’s a time for an industry to step back and reflect if they have the right team on the field,” Olson said. “Combine that with some retirements and mergers ... all those events brought about significant changes in the heads of some of the offices.”

Most recently, wireless technology company Qualcomm Inc. picked up Democrat Greg Farmer to lead its Washington lobbying team. Farmer, who joined as vice president of government affairs, started with the company last week.

He had been heading Nortel Networks’ now-defunct Washington office. Nortel, the struggling telecom-equipment company, filed for bankruptcy protection in January and shuttered its 101 Constitution Ave. NW office earlier this month. The technology firm had six in-house lobbyists and spent $640,000 on federal lobbying in 2008, according to Senate disclosure records. The company filed a lobbying termination report in August, disclosing that it had stopped its lobbying as of December 2008.

Nortel declined to comment.

Nortel’s lowered profile is definitely an outlier among tech companies. Several others, including McAfee, Intel Corp. and Blackboard Inc. are increasing their Washington footprint.

The antivirus and cybersecurity company McAfee brought on industry veteran Gann to head up the process. Gann, who joined the company five months ago as vice president of government affairs, has brought on Fleishman-Hillard Inc. to do press outreach in Washington and in the European Union. He also hired Dickstein Shapiro as its contract lobbying firm.

Gann said he expects to grow the company’s Washington presence over time.

“We are seeing a once in a decade confluence in Washington on cybersecurity policy where we expect big changes to occur,” Gann said. “We felt we have a real expertise in the area and want to participate in the debate and contribute to the discussion.”

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